It's hard to imagine musicians who collaborate with Madonna and perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live as punk rockers, but punk is an attitude and Gogol Bordello's live shows prove it to their audience with ferocious energy and heart. All nine band members are on stage almost a hundred percent of the time, but I'm venturing to say 30% of their time on stage, they're in mid-air, not actually on the stage. You can verify the numbers on your own time.
At 9pm the lights went out, the giant sling-shot image lit up in red and in front of it sauntered Eugene Hütz, alone, strumming his guitar, hair tamed by a striped headband and legs stretching out of his rolled-up pants. Band members continued to collect on stage around him and the slow strumming was replaced with an all-out Romany reggae punk festival of sound. I don't know how else to describe the sound except it makes me want to put my arms on my neighbors shoulders and do a fancy jig. However, my legwork will not be nearly as gypsy punk impressive as Hütz and Pedro Erazo's high side kicks (Erazo's the MC and percussionist).
The audience feeds off of Hütz' energy while he feeds off of bottles of red wine (later the audience will also feed off of that same red wine, splashed in celebration on us during one particular frenzy). It got sweaty, fast. Soon enough Hütz went from 2 shirts to none and tossed his headband to the crowd. Sadly, Erazo held on to his lucha libre mask, and of course, Sergey Ryabtsev, the violinist from Russia, never went without "the people's beret" a la Che. Or maybe it's Basque-style. But anyway. Their power is in their headgear. Or not.
The show is definitely at full force when the girls are on stage. Their high-pitched insistent backup vocals authenticate the gypsy part of their sound, at least to me in my cultural bubble where a gypsy party is not complete without a harem of women melodiously screaming like choral banshees. And in that bubble I see the girls, one Chinese-Scot and one American-Thai, as punk rock cheerleaders which I know is wrong but what can I say... They are extremely energetic and bouncy, but unlike cheerleaders, they wear rad outfits, jewelry, and tribal makeup, and in one case, a semi-mohawk.
The band had so much more energy to give that the encore turned out to be multiple impassioned songs, more like a "second chapter" than an encore. At one point, in a frenzy, Erazo threw his silvery marching band-sized bass drum into the front center audience... then jumped on top of it. Carefully balancing, he straightened up and surfed on his drum for as long as the crowd would hold him steady. This is not a fair task since the music inspires lots of jumping, and after a minute or less, Erazo fell into the audience and was swept back on stage drum and all. After the last song ended, band members offered more loving waves and an invitation to the after-party. Webster Hall slowly, in a quiet hum, emptied. A few devotees waited in front of the stage for a drum stick or a set list (regrettably, not me, which is why I can't identify the songs for you), young spirited girls wiggled and danced with each other and a begrudging security guard, and the sweeper sequestered the masses of empty plastic cups and squished beer cans into the corners of the floor. Soon all that was left was a skinny, fuzzy, far-out dude sharply, methodically clapping for Gogol Bordello and their immigrant punk show. I suppose he didn't realize they were right there in the lobby getting ready to take the party to Lafyette Street.
There's something so alluring about this band that everyone and their grandmas will be hooked with one live show. Amid the chaos of it all glows a warm welcoming feeling, and after it was all over, we couldn't stop ourselves from humming and chanting the songs while we hustled to the train in the sub-freezing weather.
Gogol Bordello is:
Eugene Hütz (vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion, fire bucket) - Ukraine
Sergey Ryabtsev (violin, backing vocals) - Russia
Yuri Lemeshev (accordion, backing vocals) - Russia
Oren Kaplan (guitar, backing vocals) - Israel
Thomas Gobena (bass, backing vocals) - Ethiopia
Eliot Ferguson (drums, backing vocals) – USA ***12/28/09 drummer unverified***
Pamela Jintana Racine (percussion, backing vocals, Dance, general performance) - USA
Elizabeth Sun (percussion, backing vocals, Dance, general performance) - Scotland
Pedro Erazo (percussion, MC) - Ecuador